How has the Anti-Defection Law Affected Karnataka Politics?

In its recent judgment, the Karnataka High Court held that AH Vishwanath, member of the Legislative Council (MLC) in Karnataka cannot be part of the Council of Ministers in Karnataka. This happened as he got disqualified for switching parties. Hence, under the anti-defection law, he cannot become a minister.

Introduction

MLA Vishwanath was part of the JD(S) government in Karnataka which was aligned with the Indian National Congress (INC). This government was led by former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. But in 2019, seventeen ministers had switched parties over to the Bhartiya Janata Party in 2019. Mr. Kumaraswamy was unable to prove the majority required to pass the majority in the State Legislature. Hence, he had to step down and give way for the current Yeddyurappa-led BJP government which is currently in power within the state of Karnataka. Following this, a number of the defectors had been inducted into the Vidhan Sabha which is the State Legislative Council. The state of Karnataka has a bicameral legislature. It consists of a State Legislative Assembly and a State Legislative Council.

Owing to the disqualification of the MLAs under the Anti Defection Act, the members have joined the State Legislative Council. Following this, recently Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa had put forward his nominations for the Council of Ministers to the Governor. Mr. Vishwanath was included within this nomination into the Council of Ministers. Multiple pleas were filed within the Karnataka High Court. This was in regard to the nominations to the Council of Ministers. These included petitions contending the nomination of Mr. Vishwanath, Mr. R Shankar, and Mr. RTB Nagaraj.

Background of the Case

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The nominations of the three members of the State Legislative Council as mentioned above contended in Court. This was based on Article 164 and Article 361B of the Constitution of India. Article 164 of the Constitution deals with the appointment of the ministers of a State. Article 361B deals with the disqualification of the members of a House to any further political posts. This occurs if their disqualification stands under the Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule specifically deals with defection.

If a democratically elected member of a House falling under the Parliamentary system within India switches allegiance to another party, then that member will be disqualified from his current position within the House. The Tenth Schedule was introduced into the Constitution. The aim is to prevent political instability within the country. This is owing to shifting allegiances and the constant breakdown of governments. As a result, political instability and turmoil within the country became rampant.

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Now, in this case, the defectors who had switched sides from the Kumaraswamy government to the Yeddyurappa were promptly disqualified. But the Supreme Court had allowed them to contest in the by-polls election. Mr. Vishwanath and Mr. Nagaraj had lost their seats in the election. Mr. Shankar did not participate in the elections. The petitions filed had challenged the nomination of all three candidates and were brought before the Court.

The Court held that Mr. Shankar and Mr. Nagaraj had won their seats in the State Legislative Council through an election. Thus, their nominations were valid as they did not come under conflict with Article 164 (1) (b) and Article 361 (B) of the Indian Constitution. But in the case of Mr. Vishwanath, the same did not apply. He was nominated to the State Legislative Council by Chief Minister Yeddyurappa. Hence, the Court held that his disqualification under Article 164 (1) (b) and Article 361 (B) still stands.

Impact on the Karnataka government

The decision comes at a tricky time for Chief Minister Yeddyurappa. The Chief Minister is under pressure from the party to fill his current 27-member cabinet ministry into a full-fledged 34-member cabinet. The requests by the Chief Minister to obtain a cabinet of his choice was a huge problem. The BJP had rejected multiple requests from the Chief Minister regarding his cabinet clearance. Furthermore, the pressure falls on Mr Yeddyurappa to keep the members of his party satisfied. The defectors who were instrumental in his rise to power within Karnataka, especially. The decision by the High Court will now have far-reaching effects on the political system in Karnataka. It will be harder for defectors to rise owing to the lack of incentives that can be offered up to those willing to defect. The Yeddyurappa led NDA government has secured 147 seats within the lower House. It becomes the responsibility of the Chief Minister to make sure that his government stands the test of time.

The rejection of Mr Vishwanath’s nomination has set up a precedent. This may change the political landscape of the state in the foreseeable future. The decision to shift allegiances becomes a harder one to make owing to the interpretation of the Tenth Schedule by the High Court. The state, which is reeling from a power shift that took place quite recently is now faced with a huge question pertaining to its future. The decision has limited the power of the Chief Minister in granting positions of power to his supporters. This brings forth the question of party politics in general. The game behind party politics and the question of the nature of power arising along with it is now in free-fall.

Conclusion

The anti-defection provisions introduced within the Constitution serve as an adequate check on unfair political practices. Such practices can prove to be detrimental to the political future of a country. In this case, the use of the Tenth Schedule in relation to the gaining of political titles has been duly interpreted by the High Court. Thus, Mr Vishwanath’s nomination has been revoked. Only time will tell how this decision will influence politics within the State and also the political future of the country at large.


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